Chonburi, July 5, 2016.
This is a story I’ve been meaning to write for awhile:
The fried banana man was busy this morning. I wiped the sweat from my upper lip and tugged uncomfortably at my teacher’s uniform—symptoms of hot season in Thailand. Standing a polite distance away, I watched out of the corner of my eye as a bald monk in flip flops and orange robes murmured prayers to the banana man, both of their heads dipped under the shade of a dilapidated green umbrella shielding the banana stand. When they had finished, I approached and made my order.
The banana man grinned at me, two teeth showing in his upper gums. We couldn’t speak to each other—my Thai was not good enough, but we always greeted each other in this way and he always spoke to me in Thai. It was our routine, and I looked forward to seeing him each morning before I went off to teach in the local high school down the road.
I watched the bananas sizzling in the hot vat of oil, my mouth starting to water. The monk had decided to rest so he reclined against the railing of the bridge where the stand was always set up, settling himself on a bright red plastic lawn chair supplied by the banana man.
Bananas finally bagged up, I bowed goodbye. “See you tomorrow!” I said in Thai and started up the sidewalk. Before I made it two steps, there was a rustling from the long grass beside the banana stand and the great head of a python appeared out of the ditch beside the bridge. Its six-foot body soon followed, lumpy and bulging in different spots from what I assumed was its last meal. I couldn’t help but wonder in that moment what exactly had been its last meal and if it found humans as tasty as I did fried bananas.
As stunned as I was to see a huge python blocking my commute to school, I had to feel bad for the poor guy, as he coiled back slightly, feeling his belly slide onto the warm surface of a human pedestrian sidewalk, right in the middle of Monday rush hour. We aren’t in the swamp ditch any more, I imagined him thinking.
People halted, suddenly unable to continue on without stepping into the never-ending stream of road traffic, into the swamp ditch that the snake had just appeared out of, or over the giant reptile now stretched fully across the path. None seemed like very good options, and I joined them in choosing the fourth option, which was to wait and see what happened.
The appearance of the snake had caused business at the banana stand to come to a stop and for the first time, I realized that the snake was also blocking the entrance to a small laundry shop. A little old man wearing a white tank top, shorts, and flip flops stepped spryly out of the doorway of the shop towards the snake armed with nothing but a long metal pole and a burlap bag.
One of my favorite things about Buddhist culture is that they do not believe in hurting or killing anything. I’m not sure if the presence of the monk nearby helped, but the intention of the old man became clear as he began to prod the snake in the face with the metal pole in an attempt to coerce it into the burlap sack. It also became quickly clear that while the snake didn’t particularly like the sidewalk, he was really offended at the idea of having his six-foot body dumped inside the sack and transported elsewhere.
To show his indignance as this new development, the snake began striking at the pole and hissing menacingly. While I felt a little sorry for the python, I also had great admiration for the brave old man who was now swinging the burlap sack at the snake’s head like a bullfighter, while gracefully dodging inches behind the striking mouth, his only shield the thin metal rod.
All thoughts of being late to work seemed inconsequential and I watched the scene with a mixture of fear and awe to see who would win this battle between giant serpent and man. The crowd shouted encouragement and let out hisses of breath when the snake struck, narrowly missing the man’s bare shins and feet. Finally, when I wondered if the snake would triumph, out of the laundry shop stepped another man. This one was younger, with stooping shoulders, a dragon tattooed across his shirtless chest, and a cigarette hanging from his lips.
He nonchalantly grabbed the pole and without taking the cigarette from his mouth took on the task of prodding the snake’s face into the bag which his grandfather was now wielding more deftly with two hands. The poor python was no match against the two of them and within seconds and a few more hissing strikes, his head was shoved into the bag and the grandson quickly lifted coil after coil of the writhing body until it disappeared inside.
I could tell that python disturbances at this location were probably a lot more normal for them than it had been for me because without any more pomp and circumstance, the smoking tattooed grandson sulked back into the shop and the grandfather hauled the live bag of snake towards the ditch where it had come from. Like some sort of stop-animation film, everyone resumed walking, the snake delay only a minor annoyance in their day.
Commuting to work is the most ordinary thing in the world, until it isn’t. The appearance of the python, the brave grandson and grandfather, and my luck to have seen such a thing all made me grateful for the ability to realize that extraordinary adventures can come in seemingly mundane moments. Even though I no longer commute by the banana man on the bridge, I know there is adventure in the unlikeliest places. I can’t wait to see where I find it next.